This year, I’ve challenged myself to rethink genre instruction so that students gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the three main types. In order to build stronger connections between reading and writing, I reworked my units so that they are completely intertwined. Just as with my non-fiction units, you’ll find lessons focused mainly on reading skills in a unit called, “All About Fiction” while those centered around writing skills in a unit called, “Fictional Writing.” In my classroom, both units were taught simultaneously over a nine-week period.
In these first five lessons, students create their own fictional character. We’ve spent the last several weeks reading fiction stories and analyzing the characters in each. These lessons begin with a quick review of a few characters we’ve met and a short modeling of how to complete today’s task before turning students loose to complete their own work.
I ask students to come to the meeting area with their work packets and pencils. We review the work completed yesterday, which was to begin creating a fictional character. I asked the group to share a few examples of descriptive details they heard yesterday during the close of our lesson. I praise students for their efforts and explain the next task. Today we focus on choosing affinities for our characters. I lead a short discussion about a character we met earlier in the year named Prudy in the text, Prudy’s Problem and How She Solved It (Armstrong-Ellis, C. (2001). Prudy’s problem and how she solved it. Harry N. Abrams Publishing: New York, NY.). This name sparks immediate recognition in students and they begin to talk among themselves (if you haven’t read the story, you should!). I ask students what’s so exciting – tell me what comes to mind. They tell me about how ridiculous her room was and how it blew up because it got too full. I ask them if they remember how it got to be so full and they say yes – she loved to collect things. I remind them that when we originally read the book we talked about how collecting was her hobby, but how that hobby had grown out of control as she collected everything she saw. This hobby made her quirky, different, and definitely memorable.
Today our task is to create characters that are just as memorable. We need to think about what makes our characters special, what are their hobbies, and how will people remember them. Prudy was special because she had a regular hobby that grew out of control. She was memorable not only because of her problem, but because of her response to it. When we think of details for our characters, we need to remember that we’ll one day use those to create a story. For instance, the author of Prudy’s Problem used Prudy’s out of control hobby to write an entire story. The plot revolved around the hobby, how it became a conflict, and how that problem was solved. So as you think of hobbies, affinities, and skills make sure you list those that could be included in an interesting story that others want to read.
Students return to their desks and open to page two in their work packets, which I have projected on the SmartBoard. I walk them through the prompts on the page where students will record their characters’ details and initial first sketch.
I give students time to talk about what they plan to write before any type of writing assignment. This way, more ideas make it to the paper and sometimes in a shorter amount of time. I ask students to turn and talk to their partners first about the ideas they have in each category before we move on to recording those thoughts on paper.
After talking with their partners, students now should be full of ideas. I ask students to begin writing independently and assist anyone who needs additional help getting started. After all students are writing, I conduct individual or small group conferences.
To close the lesson, I have students share their work first with their writing partner and if there is time with someone else at their tables. While listening, I want them to envision the character being described to them. If they feel that a certain type of detail is missing that would make this “picture” clearer, then they should suggest an addition to their partner.